Month

March 2021
23
Mar

Opinion: Bayshore Breathing Space for All

I live just a couple miles from Berkeley Aquatic Park, but it took a shelter-in-place order to get me to go back there after a 20-year hiatus. I had visited the park a couple years after I moved to the Bay Area and found it deserted and a bit gloomy. This time, it was vibrant and full of life, from the bright yellow gumplants blooming along the shoreline to the great blue heron feeding in the shallows and shiny-black cormorants diving deep underwater, then returning to the surface to dry their wings in the sun. And the people! There were kids playing on the playground, cyclists zipping along the Bay Trail, and frisbee golfers politely asking me to move out...
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23
Mar

Fire Sparks Sewer Boon in Larkfield

Early on the morning of October 9, 2017, a firestorm roared with unforgiving speed across a swath of northeastern Santa Rosa. The unincorporated community of Larkfield lay directly in its path. One-hundred and sixty homes there burned to the ground. Three and a half years later, Larkfield is still being rebuilt—in some ways better than ever, thanks in part to an ambitious and innovative program by the Sonoma County Water Agency to bring sewer service to the modest, tight-knit community at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains. New homes of all shapes, sizes, styles, and colors, each designed to suit the owner’s preference, are interspersed with dozens more in varying stages of construction. On a recent weekday afternoon, building and...
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23
Mar

Delta Study Predicts Stronger Floods and Less Water Supply

Though most don’t realize it, practically all Californians are linked to the Bay-Delta region via its triple function as a source of drinking water for some 27 million Californians, a critical water provider for the Golden State’s hefty agricultural industry, and a rich and unique ecosystem. But for those who live in the legal Delta zone – some 630,000 people – the braided weave of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their maze of associated wetlands and levees provides a place of home, community, and recreation. And, as a recent study by the Delta Stewardship Council shows, climate change is tugging on the watery thread holding it all together. “Two-thirds of Californians get their water from here, which is...
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23
Mar

York Creek Uncorked

York Creek free flowing at last. Video: Daniel McGlynn. Over the summer, while most of the Bay Area was figuring out how to navigate the COVID-induced shelter-in-place orders, 1,933 heavy truckloads laden with 22,000 yards of material wound their way away from Napa County’s York Creek, and were dumped into two nearby landfills. Extracting these spoils was the last step in the York Creek Dam removal project, the culmination of decades of effort by the city of St. Helena to take down a small earthen dam with a big ecological impact. The dam blocked fish from spawning in the creek’s 4.4-square-mile-watershed. Though the project seemed straightforward, no one involved in its conception could have imagined the convoluted path to its...
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23
Mar

Kayaking to Hawaii

After a French-American resident of Larkspur helped row a small boat from Monterey to Hawaii in 2016, he vowed he’d never undertake such a journey again. But Cyril Derreumaux spoke too soon. “My imagination took off, and I started dreaming about doing the same trip again in a kayak,” he says. Now, after several years of planning, Derreumaux is getting ready to embark. He plans to leave Monterey Bay in a custom-made kayak with no companions in late May and, moving between 40 and 60 miles each day, arrive at the Waikiki Yacht Club in Honolulu ten weeks later. Or maybe nine. While Derreumaux says he is more interested in the sheer adventure of the voyage than in setting records,...
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Invasive Mussels Hide in Aquarium Moss Balls

A few weeks ago, someone working in a big-box pet store in the Seattle area informed the U.S. Geological Survey that they had seen suspicious mollusks in ornamental aquarium plants that were being offered for sale. Federal scientists confirmed the presence of zebra mussels tucked away in a clump of Aegagropila linnaei, a green alga marketed as moss balls or marimo balls, and issued a warning through the Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Alert System on March 2. The national Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, co-chaired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, swung into action, bringing in regional networks and state wildlife agencies. On March 3, Martha Volkoff at the California Department of Fish...
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23
Mar

Refreshing the Estuary Blueprint

The San Francisco Estuary Partnership’s next update to its 2016 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Estuary—or Estuary Blueprint—will bring a new focus on equity and environmental justice to ongoing efforts to restore and protect the Bay and Delta. “We really want to do more to engage communities of color and indigenous communities as partners in our work,” says Partnership Director Caitlin Sweeney. “So we are looking at all our actions and initiatives through the lens of environmental justice and racial equity inclusion, as we do with climate change.” Sweeney says the update’s steering committee is taking a multi-pronged approach to integrating equity and environmental justice into the Partnership’s work. “We are looking at every single one of the...
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23
Mar

Dutch Slough Laboratory

For a hawk’s-eye view of one of the Estuary’s most ambitious restoration efforts, visit the Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh Habitat Restoration Project’s YouTube channel. Drone-shot footage shows what the Department of Water Resources has been doing on 1,200 acres of former wetland, converted to pasture and subsided up to 15 feet, in the West Delta between Big Break and Jersey Island. After moving millions of cubic yards of soil to elevate the marsh plain, a team of engineers, scientists, and contractors led by project managers Katherine Bandy of DWR and Mark Lindley of Environmental Science Associates has carved channels and created a basin-and-range landscape on the Emerson and Gilbert parcels, the western two-thirds of the project site. “We spent a...
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23
Mar

Scientists Nail Climate Links to Extreme Events

While a supermajority of Americans finally believe we are warming the world, a 2020 Yale Climate Opinion survey shows that most people still aren’t very worried about it. “Climate change is abstract to them,” says UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain. “They don’t connect it to their personal lives.” But Californians do. Reeling from a decade of record-shattering drought, heat waves, and wildfires, people in the Golden State overwhelmingly tell Public Policy Institute of California pollsters that the effects of global warming have already begun. Indeed, Swain confirms, researchers can now link climate change with some of today’s extreme events beyond a reasonable doubt. “Climate change is a slow process, it kind of sneaks up on you, but we’re at the...
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Flow Rules Stalled As Tunnel Advances

As California stares down the barrel of yet another dry year, alarm bells are already ringing over conditions in the Delta. Environmental groups, fishermen, tribes, and a host of others are calling on the State Water Resources Control Board to complete and implement a long-delayed update to the Water Quality Control Plan for the Bay and Delta (Bay-Delta Plan), to protect the imperiled ecosystem. At the same time, plans for a structure with the potential to divert more water than ever to southern cities and farms are creeping ahead. By law the Bay-Delta Plan — which establishes minimum flows through the Delta from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their tributaries — is supposed to be reviewed every three...
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23
Mar

Fixing a Dysfunctional Marsh on Sonoma Creek

Restoration projects, like species, evolve. The Sonoma Creek Enhancement Project, originally about mosquito control, has shown itself to be a boon to special-status tidal marsh wildlife as well. More than a decade of adaptive management actions made that happen.  The existing marsh, formed rapidly beginning in the 1960s by deposited sediment, lacked the dendritic channels of a mature marsh. High tides brought in water that pooled in a central basin and didn’t drain out, providing breeding habitat for mosquitos. The disadvantages of chemical treatment prompted land managers to look for alternatives.  So in the 2000s, the Marin-Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District teamed up with the US Fish & Wildlife Service (the land manager), Audubon California, and environmental scientists Daniel...
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23
Mar

Nourishing Encinal Beach

Before the East Bay Regional Park District completed the Encinal Dune Restoration and Shoreline Stabilization Project in December 2020, this tucked-away beach frequented by locals and harbor seal enthusiasts needed some love. The ice plant that dominated the low-flung dune offered little sustenance to fauna; the beach required more sand; the washed-up creosote-treated timber was strewn about like a giant game of pick-up sticks; and the large, rusty barge that buttressed a short section of the San Francisco Bay Trail had become dangerous. The nearly two-acre project site in the shape of an arrowhead includes Encinal Beach, the dune behind it, and a short section of the Bay Trail. Encinal Beach and its adjacent dune formed after the U.S. Navy...
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23
Mar

Beavers Make Good Neighbors

Much like when tech money reshapes an historical neighborhood, a beaver’s move downtown can cause the locals to worry. In Napa, the animals’ sprawling waterfront complexes create worrying pools along the riverbank, while the native cottonwoods are whittled down and threaten landowners’ roofs. It seems destined that two species known for their environmental engineering would struggle to live in unison. However, municipalities like Napa and Martinez in Contra Costa County have learned to live with their beavers, and the upcoming California Beaver Summit aims to set the record straight. “Our approach is hands-off,” says Jeremy Sarrow, a resource specialist with Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, describing the county’s tack toward managing beaver dams built along inhabited waterfronts....
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23
Mar

Sub-Standard Snow

At a glance, the recent winter storms and inches of snow in the Sierra seem like a reassuring sign: more snow means more snow melt, which means more water moving through our freshwater systems during dry summer months. But it turns out that there are different types of snow with differing levels of moisture locked up inside — and the latest Sierra snowfall appears to be holding less water than usual. This means the Bay’s streams and estuaries could have drier conditions ahead, despite this winter’s semi-regular storms. Typically, snow that falls along the Sierra has a high moisture content because of the mountain range’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, says Dan McEvoy, a regional climatologist with the Western Regional...
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23
Mar

Sediment Paparazzi

As the Estuary faces drowning marshes due to rising seas, people want to see action – acres saved, walls built, marsh mice whisked to safety after crawling to the tip of the tallest gumplant. In terms of action, “sediment monitoring” doesn’t come immediately to mind. Monitoring is something you do after all the action is over, isn’t it? And as for “sediment,” well what’s all the fuss over some dirt and mud? In fact, there is quite a fuss. The Bay region has a sediment management strategy and a sediment monitoring and modeling strategy, and later this month it will have a new sediment supply and demand analysis. Indeed, six different workgroups of Bay scientists, managers, and regulators are now...
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Bay Oil Spills: Never Again, and Again

Oil spills in San Francisco Bay are frequent news, but for those old enough to remember there is only one Great Oil Spill, the disaster of January 18, 1971. In a predawn darkness thickened by heavy fog, two small Chevron tankers were maneuvering through the strait. At San Francisco’s Pier 45, Coast Guard technicians were just then testing a novel radar system. They watched helplessly as two blips threatened to fuse into one. Frantic calls to the captains failed to get through.[1] The inbound Arizona Standard rammed its bow 40 feet into the outbound Oregon Standard, releasing more than a million gallons of heavy “Bunker C” fuel mixture — likely the worst spill in Bay history.[2] The San Francisco Bay...
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01
Mar

North America’s largest and most ancient freshwater fish species, white sturgeon, hang out in some kinds of Estuary waterways more than others, scientists find.

 Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey found that adult and sub-adult white sturgeon occupy deep open-water channels and shallow open-water shoals in equal measure, but don’t use shallow wetland channels. As a group, white sturgeon are characterized as amphidromous, meaning they regularly migrate between freshwater and the sea, in both directions, but not for the purpose of breeding. According to the study, which appears in the December 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, adults in the local population use coastal habitats to some degree, but typically remain in the Estuary and lower Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. There they congregate in deep areas with fine-sediment substrate, and are thought to move into shallow subtidal habitats to feed...
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01
Mar

As agencies wrangle over how best to protect the Delta’s dwindling native fish species, researchers want to see more consideration to the needs of the estuary’s birds.

 “If we want to restore the ecology of the Delta, we can’t just be looking in the water,” says Kristen E. Dybala of Point Blue Conservation Science. In a paper published in San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, Dybala and two co-authors make the case that “birds and their habitat needs are often not addressed in science syntheses, conservation planning, and large-scale restoration initiatives in the Delta.” While some birds use the same sloughs and channels that support such high-profile fishes as Chinook salmon and Delta smelt, other bird species rely on habitat types that fringe the Delta’s waterways. Indeed, while general habitat restoration in the Delta can provide multiple benefits for humans, fish and many birds, the authors observe...
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01
Mar

Filling significant recently identified gaps in monitoring spring-run Chinook is critical to protecting these threatened Central Valley salmon.

“There’s no way we can manage them for recovery if we don’t understand the biological processes that govern their dynamics through time and space,” says UC Santa Cruz/NOAA salmon expert Flora Cordoleani, lead author of a study reported in the December 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. Cordoleani and colleagues identified the monitoring gaps while building a model of the spring-run Chinook life cycle. The model accounts for three self-sustaining populations of these at-risk fish, assessing survival of key life stages (eggs, fry, smolts and adults) as well as in key habitats (natal creeks, the Sacramento River, floodplains in the Sutter and Yolo bypasses, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and San Francisco Bay). “It’s a complex model, and...
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01
Mar

Human activity could undermine the success of efforts to reintroduce sea otters to San Francisco Bay.

 Although past studies have found that the Bay could support 1.5 times the entire current southern sea otter population, a new study from the Estuary & Ocean Science Center at San Francisco State University and published by PeerJ last November indicates that anthropogenic risks like contaminants, vessel traffic, and oil spills may constrain the otter’s ability to gain a foothold. The study, led by Jane Rudebusch, at the time graduate student at SFSU, looked at the types of human stressors present and ranked them according to factors like temporal overlap (frequency of its interaction with otters), intensity (consequence of that interaction), and management effectiveness (how well the stressor is mitigated by human regulation). The study concluded that high-speed vessel traffic,...
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